Archive for the ‘Technical How To’s’ Category

Dear Danielle: How Can My Clients and I Transfer Transcription Files?

Dear Danielle:

I am just starting out and one of my main specialties is transcription.  I have thus far been transcribing for two companies where I sign onto their secure server to obtain my digital recordings, load them onto my desktop, and then proceed to transcribe and then email the completed product back to them. Since I am setting out on my own, I am wondering what some options are for obtaining the digital recordings from other clients, if they do not have a server set up where they load their recordings.  Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? —LB

I think DropBox may work quite well for this. I tell ya, I have found DropBox to just be so completley indispensible in my work with clients. It’s easy to install and simple to understand, and I find new ways to use it all the time. And, not that I’m the advocate for everything being free (quite the opposite!), but it does just happen to be free so there’s that, too, lol.

What you could do is set up a shared folder for each client and then create an IN folder for incoming transcriptions and an OUT folder for completed transcriptions.

As I’m sure you’re aware, sound files can be quite large which makes them not well-suited for email delivery. Email is not exactly secure either if you are dealing with confidential information.

Plus, if you have frequent large attachments like that going in and out on a regular basis, your ISP might get testy. Sure, you could zip them up, but that’s an extra step at both ends. And anytime you can eliminate extra steps, it sure makes things a lot more convenient.

So here again, a secure cloud storage solution like DropBox where you can transfer and share large files such as this is a perfect solution.

For other transcription tools, be sure to also check out the ACA Free Software Directory. Of particular interest, you will find ExpressScribe which is another brilliant tool that is so indispensible, it’s a wonder they don’t charge for it. But they don’t, and it’s free.

This isn’t particularly transcription related, but another tool I use extensively in my work with clients is Airset, which also happens to be free.

This service is what is known as a shared collaborative virtual office where you can set up a private/separate account for each client you work with so that you have a central location in which you both share documents, keep track of work requests and projects, share calendaring and many other features.

I only use the shared calendar feature because it has the best and most extensive reminders feature of all the shared virtual office suites I’ve used (and I’ve used just about ALL the main ones out there). For my needs, I don’t find it stable enough to make use of any of the other features, however, they do have them and perhaps they will work well for you. Check it out!

One caution about using free tools… just because something is free doesn’t make it the right solution. Often things that are free come with strings or are not the most stable or secure. These services I mention in this post are rare exceptions of excellence. If you do use free tools, be sure they have the capabilities to grow with your needs as your business and client roster grows. And remember that bumping up to the next level of features, stability, capacity or security often requires you to move to a paid plan (and rightly and fairly so). Just some things to keep in mind.

Hope that helps!

How to Create a Split-Screen Video Call Recording on Skype with Supertintin

I had a bit of a saga trying to figure out how to get a split-screen recording for some video interviews I wanted to do via Skype. To save you some trouble, I thought I would share with you what I learned.

The first thing you need to know is that Skype on its own does not render a two-person video call at equal size, side by side. Only group calls of three or more people work like that on Skype. Instead, what you will see on a two-party video call is the other person in the larger, primary position and you will be in a much smaller video inset.

That’s fine if you are just having an informal video call. But that doesn’t work if you are wanting to record a formal video interview that you want to share with others for one reason or another.

Third-Party Software Needed

In order to record a two-person split-screen video call where both people are on the screen side-by-side at the same size, you need some third-party software. These are the two I recommend:

PC UsersSupertintin ($29.95)
Mac Users: ecamm Call Recorder ($19.95)

Both of these softwares create the dual-screen, side by side video for your interview style format and will record both the audio and video all in one. You won’t need any other equipment or software and they are so completely quick and simple to figure out how to use and operate. You won’t need a phD to use them, lol.

How to Use Supertintin

Supertintin is super easy to use. Here’s a quick video to help you get going quickly with your split screen video call recording:

Other Tools

Below are a couple more options that will give you split-screen recording. These are more expensive because they do a lot more than just split-screen recording, which is probably overkill if all you’re trying to do is obtain a simple one-on-one video call recording. Their interfaces are also a lot more complicated so it will be more time-consuming learning how to use them.

VidBlaster
VodBurner

Free Tools

There are lots of services out there that will faciliate video chats. You will find several listed on our Free Software page.

Oovoo is one I’ve used a few times to get that two-person, same-size, side-by-side, split-screen video recording for interview purposes. Personally, I don’t prefer the format, I found it a little glitchy and unstable, and the free version is a little restrictive as far as functionality. However, it will do in a pinch until you are able to get one of paid tools listed above.

Hope that helps!

How to Change Your Twitter Name without Losing Followers

Someone recently asked me for the link to an article we published in our old ezine, The Portable Business (discontinued October 2011), on how to change your Twitter name without losing followers.

At the time, I was changing my Twitter name and found this wonderful information from Alicia Cowan. Here is a reposting of that article for those of you who need to change your Twitter name and want to keep all your followers. It’s brilliant!

* * *

How to Change Your Twitter Name without Losing Followers

By Alicia Cowan

I recently decided to change my Twitter username and wanted to do it in such a way that I wouldn’t lose my followers or access to my current profile. I’ve built up a great community on Twitter and want to preserve it. Besides, what if someone decided to use my current name once I’d changed it? One day I may decide to reinstate it!

This quick article takes you through the simple process I used. I retained all of my followers and other important profile settings–lists, favourites, tweets and people I follow. It’s a foolproof strategy and the smartest way to switch while retaining your profile.

Why do it this way?

It’s very easy to change your Twitter name. You can do it through the settings area of your profile. BUT WAIT!

If you just switch your name to something new, what happens when someone makes contact with you using your old name? They may not realize you’ve changed your name. The problem is, you won’t receive the message. It will be lost because your old username account no longer exists and that person will never know. What if someone follows you using your old username? They may have received a recommendation to follow you but they won’t know you’ve moved your profile. You could lose countless opportunities to engage with others interested in your product or service!

For this to work you need 2 things in place first:

  • A new available profile name. This bit can be tricky. My chosen name @AbsoluteAlicia was about 10th on my list of desired names!
  • An email address that is not currently associated with any of your other Twitter profiles. Each Twitter account needs a separate email address. You can’t have one email address associated with two or more accounts so you’ll want to make sure you have an email address in place before starting this process.

OK, here’s how you do it…

Step 1:

  • Change your current username to your new one in the settings section of your account.
  • Once you’ve added your desired name, Twitter will check to see if it’s available. If your chosen name isn’t available it will say so and you’ll have to pick another.
  • Once you have your chosen name scroll down to the bottom of the page and SAVE CHANGES.

Step 2:

  • Notify all of your followers that you’ve changed your Twitter name. Do this by sending an update message telling them your new username.

Step 3:

  • Next up, create a new Twitter profile using your old Twitter name. This is when you will need another email address.
  • Enter all the account information required for your new account, including your previous username. It’s important to do this step straight away to prevent anyone else taking your profile!
  • Once the account is created, skip all of the ‘find people to follow’ stuff and go straight in to settings to recreate your account adding your profile picture, email, web address and old Twitter name.
  • In the bio, explain who you are, that your profile has moved and where people can find you. By adding your new username in the bio, it will show up as a link taking people directly to your updated profile. Remember to save changes!
  • If you’ve got a custom Twitter background you can add that in too in the Design area of settings.

Step 4:

  • The next step is to send out a message on your new account with your old username. Don’t expect to get any followers here but just in case people come looking for you using your old Twitter name, you’ll want to make doubly sure that people know where they can find you. For the time being at least, this message will remain at the top of your profile ready to point people in the right direction.

I recommend that you come to check this account periodically, especially after the first few days of switching your name because you will get messages from people who don’t realize you’ve changed usernames, or they’ll forget, or people may follow you too. You can send them a message explaining that you’ve changed your name and where they can find you. If you using any apps on WordPress (Tweet this or @Anywhere) remember to change the settings there too.

And that is it! That’s the whole process, really simple–it takes 5 minutes and it prevents you from losing any contacts you’ve made through your old username and will ensure a smooth transition from one to the other!

RESOURCE: Check out my video version of this article. If you want to learn more about using Twitter to market your business, check out the fabulous e-book Twitter Your Business by Mark Shaw, for tons of practical tips, plus I’m a featured case study!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alicia Cowan helps small businesses use online and social media to market themselves effectively and efficiently, so they stop wasting time and start increasing profits! You can find more tips on her blog.

 

Dear Danielle: What Software Do I Need for an Administrative Support Business?

Dear Danielle: What Software Do I Need for an Administrative Support Business?

Dear Danielle:

I am just starting out and would like to know what equipment and software do I need? —JD

I get some form of this question at least three or four times a month. And often it’s the (seemingly) simplest questions that are the hardest to answer.

Long, exhaustive lists really aren’t helpful. Because one person’s needs and preferences in software aren’t necessarily going to be the same as the next person’s.

It also matters what kind of business you will be in.

For example, someone in the administrative support business (which is what my blog is specifically focused on) is definitely going to need all the usual office types of software, whereas someone is in the design and creative services business will have more of an emphasis on that kind of software and probably more of it. Common sense, right?

Also, you don’t need to have every kind of software in the world to start out.

The kind of work you will support your clients with depends on what profession/industry (i.e., target market) they are in which will, thus, dictate what software and services you’ll need.

For example, if you are someone who works with attorneys, you may need law practice management software. Someone who doesn’t work with attorneys will have no need for that. You see?

Beyond the basic office software, you won’t necessarily know what you need until you start researching your target market and working with clients. That’s when you start picking up additional software and tools—as you go along and determine you need them.

So relax. I give you full permission to not stress over this. 🙂

Bottom line is, your mileage may vary and what software you need is not necessarily what the next person needs.

What I can give you is a list of the software and services I use in my practice. That should give you some sense of where to start.

Basic Office Software

  • Microsoft Office Suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote. You need to work with the programs that are predominately used by your clients and the rest of the world and these are them. 😉
  • Open Office (free). This is a great backup to the Microsoft line of products. I especially love the Draw component for diagramming. But there are still enough quirks and incompatibilities that make it unsuitable to rely on entirely. For example, I have all kinds of problems in OpenOffice when I’m dealing with any kind of legal pleading. For that reason, I don’t use it at all for my work with attorneys.
  • Workflowy (free). This is a seriously AWESOME organizational tool. I use to to keep track of tasks and to-dos, outline and flesh-out thoughts and ideas for articles, blog posts, products, trainings, etc. You can set up accounts with clients to collaborate on projects and keep abreast of to-dos and completions. The more I use this fantastic tool, the more uses I find for it.

Email

  • Microsoft Outlook. This is usually part of any Microsoft Office suite you purchase, but I wanted to list it under it’s own heading. There are other email clients out there that folks will recommend, but I absolutely love the tried and true Outlook. It’s versatility and functionality is beyond compare. Most people only know of and use a fraction of what it’s capable of. I use it for everything.

Remote Access (Updated 3/29/15)

  • LogMeIn. I seriously could not live without this. Wherever I have internet access, I can log in remotely to my main home office computer and work as if I was sitting right there. This is how I continue working with my clients and taking care of my business when we travel or go on road trips. I’ve even run my entire business and continued to seamlessly work with clients while living in Europe. People often didn’t even know I was away! I don’t have to lug around thumb drives or external hard drives that can get lost or stolen, and I never have to worry about syncing computers because I’m always working on the one main computer; I just might not be actually sitting right there. Of all the remote access services out there (and I’ve tried several), this one to me is the easiest to install and use. I even get my clients set up with their own accounts and have frequently used this to log onto their computers to install something for them or troubleshoot.
  • TeamViewer. Once LogMeIn canceled its free service back in January 2014, I moved to TeamViewer. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not someone who goes around looking only for free solutions. I don’t fault LogMeIn for that move whatsoever (in fact, I can’t believe they didn’t do it years ago). They are a business after all, not a charity. I am not about being a cheapskate and expecting everyone else to give me everything for free. Quite the opposite. So if you are a “frugalista” (i.e., cheapskate) who does, you have not found a kindred spirit here. I still love LogMeIn. They offer a FANTASTIC product and service, and I still give it top marks for everything it does. It’s just that I actually did pay for their pro service for many years and never used any of the features that came with that service such as remote printing and transferring files (I use DropBox for that). So eventually, I went back to using the free account because that’s all I needed: just a simple way to connect with my main computer once in awhile when I was away from my office. In fact, if they ever come up with a plan priced solely for the remote access, no bells and whistles, I would go right back to it. In the meantime, I have discovered TeamViewer, which happens to be free. There are some little quirks, but it gets the job done and works relatively simply and intuitively.

Telephony & Video Conferencing

  • Vonage. I absolutely LOVE Vonage. It’s a VoIP service, meaning it uses the Internet to deliver the phone service. Of course, that means if your cable or broadband is down or your computer is off, you won’t have service. But if you can overlook those two trade-offs, it’s truly fantastic. Not only does it give me a dedicated business line, but I can bring that line with me on my laptop anywhere I go–including Germany where we also live–and make and receive calls at no extra charge just as if I was still at my home office. There is no long distance or roaming in your service area (which is huge), and you can’t beat the fact that all the features you have to pay extra for with regular land line phone companies, come standard in Vonage. And you pay one set fee each month–you are never surprised with unexpected bills or constant nickel and dime charges. I will NEVER go with any of the big name, land line phone companies ever again.
  • FreeConferenceCallHD (free). With an account, I get a set bridgeline with its own dedicated phone number. I use this when I do teleseminars (up to 1,000 people) or want to hold and record a conference call between two or more people. Great quality and it will store all your recordings online ready for download whenever you need them.
  • Skype (free). I use Skype for phone calls as well as videoconferencing with colleagues and clients. I have also used it to record conference calls. Great tool!
  • SuperTinTin. When I want to record split screen videos on Skype, this is the tool I use. You can learn how to use it for split screen recording on Skype here.

Browsers

  • Internet Explorer (free). I really, really dislike Internet Explorer and haven’t liked it since IE6. But I don’t like how any of the other browsers store/organize Favorites so I keep it around for that. Plus, if you do any kind of web design work, you need to test your sites on all the main browsers (of which, IE is still the leader) to make sure they render properly and are cross-browser compatible.
  • FireFox (free). This is my go-to browser. I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. None of them are that great, but what are you going to do? So, this is my go-to browser.
  • Google Chrome (free). This one is okay. It’s just a good, basic browser without any frills. Let’s put it this way, I don’t hate it. My programmer says it’s best for viewing videos, but it does sometimes crash when I use it for that. Not often, just sometimes. I sort of alternate between all three of these browsers to meet various needs. Too bad there isn’t just one good one out there that does everything well.

Media Players

  • Real Player (free). This one is my favorite because it plays just about all audio and video formats.
  • Windows Media Player (free). I think this comes automatically with Microsoft systems these days. I don’t use it that much, but it’s free and it’s nice to have just in case.
  • Quicktime (free). Same thing; I keep it around for GPs. It’s sort of like browsers—each one serves a different purpose and it doesn’t hurt to have them all on hand in case you need them. Plus, I should mention, the pro version apparently has some nifty video editing tools (though I haven’t yet explored them myself).

Computer System Maintenance (Updated 3/29/15)

  • Microsoft Essentials (free). Nimple and lightweight. Not a resource hog whatsoever. Seriously, get it.
  • CCCleaner (free). Love this. I don’t use it very often, but it’s a great tool for cleaning up those old, unneeded registry files that often get left behind and sometimes gum things up.
  • Adaware (free). This gets rid of stuff that your built-in cleaners miss and that slow your system down. I couldn’t live without this. Definitely a must-have!
  • Belarc Advisor (free). This program is awesome! What it does is scan your system (when you tell it to) and it comes back with a full report of your systems and all the various software you have installed. Very handy when you are moving over to a new computer and need to make sure you re-install everything.
  • Malwarebytes (paid version). When Microsoft stopped supporting Windows 2003, which I still love and use on my main computer, I needed to find some other security services in place of Microsoft Security Essentials. My programmer recommended Malwarebytes, which is an antivirus and Internet security software service. A one year license that works on up to three computers is only $24.95. Well worth the peace of mind and has worked flawlessly so far for me.
  • AVG Internet Security (paid version). I used to be a die-hard advocate of AVG. It caught things that often slipped past McAfee and Norton, which were bloated resource hogs. Then one year AVG turned into one of those bloated resource hogs and I had to say goodbye to it. But now it’s back, better than ever. Gone is the bloat that slowed my system down. I happily pay for the pro service. One license allows me to use it on all my computers and my cell phone.

Virtual Office Collaboration/File Sharing/Project Management (Updated 3/29/15)

  • DropBox (free). AWESOME program with far too many uses and capabilities to list. Just get it. Seriously.
  • Airset (free with a very nominal monthly fee if you need more space). You could use this for everything, but I only use this with my clients expressly for the calendar feature because you can set a series of reminders that will send automatic emails. 
  • KeepAndShare. My absolute favorite service, Airset, shut down in 2014 which was a darn shame. It was the best product on the market for what it did as far as I’m concerned. Their problem was that they should have made it a paid service right from the beginning. They doomed it from day one by making it completely free. So, I had to go on the hunt for another online shared calendaring service that had the same high level of automated email reminders as Airset. I ended up finding that in KeepAndShare and had all my clients move over to that. It doesn’t have the level of color-coding ability that Airset did (which we used extensively), but it’s got enough to make do. The company is always interested in user feedback and seem to respond and actually take action to that so that’s a good thing and they are always rolling over new improvements. And it’s got the rest of the tools that Airset had (e.g., address book, file sharing, task lists, etc.) so you can use it as a project management tool as well if you are so inclined. Personally, as far as project management, I have a whole simple system I devised using only your email service. You can get that in my guide, Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants.
  • ACA Free Project Management/Virtual Office Programs List (free; various). Here is a list of other free resources you might want to look into.

Electronic Signatures (Updated 3/29/15)

  • Echosign. Adobe recently purchased this company and still offers a free level for one user up to 5 contracts per month. I honestly never use this anymore. I’m still a fan of old-fashioned signatures which really aren’t that difficult to do remotely. Just have a client sign their portion and put their original signature page in the mail. If you need to get started working right away, you can simply have them email you a scanned copy of their signature page. Done. Once you get their original signature page in the mail, you sign your side then put a PDF of the whole signed contract up in your shared Dropbox folder with them. Easy peasy.

Bookkeeping

  • Quickbooks Pro. Hands down, this is one of the best investments you can make in your business. This does everything and keeps it all in one, integrated place: bookkeeping, billing, customer management, tracking, reporting, budgeting, projections… the list goes on. I honestly don’t understand how anyone can use any of those other piecemeal services out there for billing and stuff like that. And yes, I specifically mean the “Pro” version. That will give you the highest and most functionality and reporting capabilities.

Time Tracking

  • ACA Free Time Tracking Tools List (free; various). I don’t bill by time anymore whatsoever, but sometimes it’s useful to know how much time you did actually spend on something, if only for your own internal business analysis purposes. This is a list of all kinds of free time tracking tools you can use. Heck, even Outlook has a little timer in it.

Payment Processing

  • PayPal. I have not needed a formal merchant account in nearly 14 years of business. PayPal does everything I need. Some folks say that a true merchant account is cheaper, but the difference amounts to pennies–something I’m not concerned about in the least. To me, versatility and ease of use is the name of the game and PayPal has it in spades, on top of being trusted the world over. And really, any fees you pay are so nominal as to be laughable. They’re a business expense write-off anyway so what are all those whiners out there complaining about?
  • e-Junkie. I adore e-Junkie. It’s simple, easy to use and has great customer support. I use this service to manage sales and delivery of my info products, classes and coaching. Seriously one of the best tools when you don’t need a ton of bells and whistles. It even provides a built-in affiliate program and transaction log and integrates superbly with all the major payment processing vendors and list managers including payPal and Aweber.

PDF Tools

  • CutePDF (free).
  • PDF Converter Pro. This program is easy to use with lots of robust functionality.
  • Nitro PDF. One bad thing I have to say about PDF Converter Pro is their customer service is absolutely atrocious. Horrible. They charge for support or try to get everyone to use their users forum, which is rarely expedient or helpful, if anyone answers your question at all. When it’s next time to update/upgrade, I’m going wit this program instead.
  • Adobe Acrobat. I have this only because it came as part of a suite of software, but I really never use it. I prefer my PDF Converter Pro.
  • Adobe Reader (free). It’s free, but I prefer my Foxit Reader much better (see below).
  • Foxit Reader (free). Quick, easy and free PDF reader. I have it set as my default viewer and like it very much.

Audio Tools

  • Audacity (free). Fantastic program for editing audio tracks. For example, if you work with teleseminar recordings, you can edit out ums and ahs, you can add intro music and sound effects, you can add additional track overlays… there’s just no end to what this program can do!

Transcription (updated 3/29/15)

  • Express Scribe (free). Another fantastically robust program that I can’t believe is offered for free.
  • Transcribe (free/$20 annual license fee). Found this wonderful tool toward the end of 2014. So easy to use and perfect for transcribing those random, miscellaneous notes you record or videotape to yourself that tend to get relegated to a to-do folder and forgotten forever, lol. I transcribed a three year backlog of those kind of notes in one afternoon! There is a certain amount you can use it for free, but I loved it so much I paid the $20 annual license fee for unfettered access.

Web Work & Design

  • Dreamweaver. I use this for soooo many things both for my own business and in the design work I do for clients. I not only design websites with it, it also helps in writing and reading code. I also work up my email and autoresponder templates with this program.
  • CoreFTP Lite (free). I use this to upload files and pages up to the various websites I work with or design, both mine and my clients’. There are lots of different ways to do that and lots of different programs out there that do it, both paid and free, but I’ve used this one for years and never really had a need to explore others. I’m used to it, it does the job, has an intuitive interface, and it’s just been a very trusty sidekick.
  • FileZilla (free). My programmer prefers I use this one so I have it installed on my computer as well.
  • EditPad Lite (free). This is a handy little program for stripping hidden code from text, working with plain text, and also when working with basic HTML and other coding.

Design/Creative Work

  • Photoshop. This is professional design standard software (now owned by Adobe and that comes in their Creative Suite packages) that I use to work with photos and graphics.
  • Illustrator. This is professional design standard software (now owned by Adobe and is another part of their Creative Suite packages) that I use to design and work with vector-based graphics.
  • Pixie Color Picker (free). This is a way nifty tool that allows you to “pick” colors from samples using a virtual eyedropper. Seriously, I could not live without this tool.
  • The Font Thing. This is a tool that allows me to easily scroll through all the fonts on my computer system. I use it when I’m doing design work and trying to find the best font for a particular project.
  • SnagIt. This is a fantastic screen capture program that does oh-so-much-more. Yet another must-have!
  • Screenhunter (free). This is a little freebie screenhunter that does a great job for grabbing those quick and easy screenshots. The pro version (which is what I use) has even more great features and capabilities.
  • ACA Free Graphics Programs List.

Screen Recording

Video Editing

  • Camtasia. Once I get some other things out of the way, I will be doing more video work. In the meantime, I purchased Camtasia and have gotten pretty fluent with it. It is so much easier and intuitive to use than some of the other professional video editing software out there, and less costly as well. LOVE this program!
  • Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD. This one is a lot more complex with a much steeper learning curve. However, it is more industry standard movie editing software as opposed to Camtasia which is more of a screen capturing tool. Does far more than Camtasia. That said, unless you need to get into more advanced video editing, you probably don’t need this software.
  • Windows Movie Maker (free).
  • Handbrake (free). This is an extremely handy tool that I use frequently for converting videos from one format to another. For example, Camtasia doe not handle some video formats natively such as .mov or .mpeg. Therefore, I have to convert them into a compatible format (I generally use .mp4) in order to upload and edit them in Camtasia.

Video Streaming & Hosting

  • YouTube (free). I opened accounts with many of the different services out there, but in the end am now sticking with YouTube. It’s established, widely used and great for SEO. I also like how you can customize the theme and display of your channel.
  • Ustream (free). I don’t actually use this yet, but if I was wanting to do some live streaming video classes, this would be the service I would use.
  • Livestream (free). This is another live video streaming service that I’ve looked into. Hadn’t had a chance to use it yet and not sure how it compares to Ustream as they both do the same thing so like anything else, it probably just comes down to personal preference. For me, I’d probably be looking at the user interface, how easy/intuitive it is to use and get started, how wel it streamed, things like that, when deciding which one would be my go-to choice.
  • Amazon S3.

Audio Streaming

  • Audio Acrobat. A versatile service that will stream both audio and video. Not only is it great for your own business and marketing purposes, it’s very widely used so knowing how it works will be a benefit to your clients as well.

All-In-One List Management/Email Distribution/Autoresponder Service

  • Aweber. Honestly, why people bother with free services that don’t scale as their business grows is beyond me. All the time and work they invested in growing their list puts them right back to square one when they have to move to a paid service that they should have just started with in the first place. Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish. When it comes to purchasing software and services, think with a mind towards what is going to facilitate the growth and success of your business. That’s why this program is an absolute MUST-HAVE as it will help you grow, nurture and keep in touch with your audience and keep those prospective client pipelines moving and shaking.

Dear Danielle: How Do You Keep Work Synced Between Computers?

Dear Danielle:

How do you keep your files and information synced between computers and how do you protect your clients’ work or database getting lost in case of some kind of disaster (lost or stolen laptop, fire, computer meltdown, etc.)? –AL

Great question! This actually falls into two topics: systems and backup.

Backup

It’s always a good idea to have a backup system in place. There are a couple of ways you can go, which all boil down to personal choice: external hard drive or an online backup service.

Personally, I use an external hard drive and do my own backups once a week or more. I just don’t like the idea of having all my personal business information on an outside party’s systems.

I think any time you trust an outside third-party with potentially sensitive, confidential client/business info, you increase your liability if their systems become exploited or fail for some reason.

But like I say, it’s a personal choice. If you want to go the online service route, I’ve heard good things about Mozy and it is a lot easier to do daily backups when someone else is doing them automatically.

My only caution would be to make sure you know and understand what is being backed up. Are they backing up your entire system (including system files and programs) or just certain kinds of regular documents and files? How easy it is to find and restore files should you need to do so? What are the storage limitations? Are you notified of fee increases for overages in advance? What is the customer service like? Can you quickly and easily get help when you need it or do they abdicate that to forums (where you could wait days for someone to respond)?

As far as backing up clients’ data for them (if that’s what you’re asking), that’s a bad idea. You’re not a storage facility. Don’t take on responsibilities and liabilities that aren’t yours to bear. Clients need to be responsible for their own businesses; that’s not your job or the business you’re in. You have your own to deal with. Their databases should be on their own computers and systems, not yours.

Systems

As far as keeping your files synced between computers, my best advice is to avoid duplication at all costs. Otherwise, you only invite confusion, mistakes, rework and inefficiency (which in itself creates more work). A business that does not run well also does not earn well. What I recommend is that you get an online collaborative office and a remote access service.

I work from several different computers and laptops, but I don’t keep work in all these various places. All my files, my entire business, sits on my main office desktop computer. When I need to access files, I simply login remotely to my home office computer using LogMeIn. I could not live without this service. I can be sitting in our condo in Germany and working at my home computer in the U.S. as if I was sitting right there. No more dinking around and keeping track of portable/thumb drives that are easily lost or broken. It’s simply brilliant.

My other best friend is my virtual office collaboration service, HyperOffice. This is a web-based service that allows you to organize clients, share calendars, project managements, documents, etc. and keep everything in a single online location that you both have access to. There is no moving files around or backing up between computers necessary whatsoever because everything is located on servers “in the cloud” meaning they can be accessed from anywhere once you log in. This will not only simplify your work life immensely, it’s a convenience and benefit for clients working with you.

A new best friend that I can’t say enough good things about is DropBox. For those occasions when you do need to quickly and simply move, transfer or sync files between computers or with clients, DropBox is your go-to tool. It’s crazy how versatile it is and I’m constantly finding new uses for it. Super, super easy to install and use.

With these three tools, things are kept organized and not spread out all over the place and I never have to waste time and energy syncing stuff up. It’s a non-issue!

Dear Danielle: How Do I Work with Clients Virtually?

Dear Danielle:

In talking with my business coach we have decided I should use my 18 years office administration and customer service skills to start an administrative support business. I’m losing my current work position in June of this year so I’m hoping to have my business established by then. One area I’m struggling with is how I perform my current skills for business owners strictly from my home office? Is there specific software I should have, etc?  How are others accomplishing these tasks from their home offices? Plus, there are some tasks I don’t know how to do at this point. —SC

New software, services and technologies emerge every day so there isn’t a way to give you one single, static list of everything you might possibly use.

One reason is because I don’t know who your target market is (a target market is simply an industry/field/profession you cater your admin support to).

That makes a big difference because while there will be some general overlap (e.g., Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.) the software and tech tools you would need to work with one industry/profession may not necessarily be the same for another.

For example, are they professionals providing a service or are they a sales business? Different industries/professions have different business models, work with clients differently, market differently, etc, and that will entail different support and require different appproaches in supporting them.

So it really depends on what industry/profession you’re going to support and the work involved in supporting them. Once you know that, you can then better determine what tools you’ll need.

That said, here is what I can tell you generally:

1. One trait I notice a lot in our industry is people tend to make things far more complicated than need be, which only increases their workload and makes their business harder to manage. In large part, you and your client don’t need anything more complicated and involved to communicate other than simply emailing each other. With email, you don’t have to take time out for random, interrupting phone-calls. You have a tangible item that you can move around in prioritizing files in your email client (e.g., Outlook) and you’ve got a hardcopy paper trail and record, so to speak, of what is asked of you.

2. In the past I’ve recommended project management/online collaborative office services. However, even that just complicates things unnecessarily. And when you have a full, busy practice (or building a business to have one), you will find you just don’t need anything that weighs you down like that.  I’ve also found that clients don’t like to have to learn a whole new software or tool to work together and it just doubles your administration and workload re-adding projects and work into another system when you’ve already got it in an email. Now, I don’t use any project management software at all. I simply use DropBox to share documents with clients, collaborate and edit them in real time, and keep things organized online in a central repository we both share.

3. Then, there are going to be services your clients uses and all that’s really required there is for them to give you the login access information. For example, if you client publishes an ezine (online electronic newsletter), he or she will use a service like Aweber to distribute it and manage the attendant subscriber lists. Because it’s an online service, you don’t need to download anything or purchase your own software. You simply log into the client’s account and do what you need to do.

4. Let’s see, what else? Oh, here’s a good example… Some people offer bookkeeping in addition to their administrative support. My first caution here is to first make sure you are qualified to be providing this kind of service. When you start messing with people’s money and financial recordkeeping, you open yourself up to a whole other level of liability. People who don’t have the knowledge and training to be providing this service shouldn’t. Otherwise, you risk causing real harm to the clients and yourself getting into potential legal hot water.

But let’s say you are a qualified bookkeeper and want to offer this service. There are all kinds of ways you can provide this and all kinds of platforms to use. In the actual bookkeeping field, what many folks do is have clients fax or mail bank statements at the start of every month and then they simply enter and keep the data at their end in their own software (like Quickbooks Pro). At the end of the month, they give clients summarized reports and balance sheets. When it’s tax time, they simply make a CD copy to give to the accountants (unless they provide that services themselves as well).

Other business owners are more hands-on. They want their data entered a little more regularly instead of once a month. They like to keep their own finger on the pulse of things and for them, keeping their records on their own systems is preferred. In those cases, services like Quickbooks offer an online version. It’s pretty robust, but there are components lacking that the actual software has (e.g., last I heard, the online version doesn’t allow you to enter COGS line-items; if you working with contractors, for example, that could be a problem). If the client’s business is simple and more service-based, the online version will probably serve all your needs. And if you get the online version, again, all you need is for the client to provide you with access to the account.

Another way is to have the client fax or email things to be entered and then you mail then back a CD or somehow get an electronic version back to them. Things like invoices can be emailed back to the client or simply mailed out. This is a really complicated way of doing things because it adds more work and will require that you and the client always be in exact sync and never fail to upload the latest CD of their files. For example, if you do a client’s bookkeeping for the week, then make a copy of the CD and do a file transfer of it to them, the client then has to download that latest CD. If he fails to do this, the next time you do file swapping, you could lose all your previous work. I really, really don’t recommend doing things this way whatsoever. Too much room for human error. And trust me, there WILL be human error sooner or later. I guarantee it.

The only other way is to work on the client’s own software to do their bookkeeping using remote access (such as with a program like LogMeIn or TeamViewer). This can work really great. The only thing is that the client can’t be on the computer you are trying to work on remotely. In the past, what I’ve had clients do is simply set up a second computer (typically, one that isn’t going to be used at all or very often by anyone else), keep their bookkeeping software on that computer and then I simply log in whenever I was ready to do their bookkeeping.

I used the example of bookkeeping, but as you can see, when it comes to software there are going to be all kinds of options available to you. There are going to be online services. Sometimes remote access is the way to go. Other times, having the actual software is what is required. You simply are going to have to research them (and your research could and should include asking those specific questions of your colleagues when they come up) and find out what works best–for your clients AND you. And a lot you will figure out as you go and as you talk with clients and prospects.

What you need and the option you end up using for any given support area is going to also depend a lot on your target market and what makes sense for your business as well. Meaning, your business can’t afford for you to be spending your time using antiquated or inefficient systems or softwares just because a particular client is using them and doesn’t know any better. As an independent professional and administrative expert, you have to work with clients who can get with the program or are amenable to the advice you give them on what will work better for them and for you. Because every inefficiency you allow into your business, just to make an exception and cater to an individual client’s whims, makes your business that much less profitable and efficient. And that’s not good for you or your other clients.

My Best Tips and Tricks for Teleseminars and Webinars

I’ve done teleseminars up the ying-yang and know how to run those like the back of my hand. Got it down to a fine science.

I also recently held my first training webinar, and it was quite the learning experience.

Here are a few odds and ends things I learned (in no particular order) that you’re sure to find helpful, too.

  1. Use a timer. It’s easy to get distracted and lose track of time, especially when you get caught up in the moment with the energy and enthusiasm of your attendees. In my first class, we went way over the planned time I told people to schedule, and I felt really bad about that. In the future, I plan to keep a clock right in front of my eyeballs and also turn on a timer to help keep me on track. This will help gauge when it’s time to speed things up and move along to keep everything on schedule.
  2. Map it out, then stick with the script. I find reading from a script difficult. It seem unnatural or inauthentic. I like the dynamic of a real conversation and interaction, which feels more genuine and in-the-moment. There’s so much I want to share with folks that often I don’t remember something until it comes up organically. But there’s a reason why the experts tell you to script things out. You end up with a more polished production, and it helps keep things focused and on track. Plus, if you suffer from “um” and “ya know” syndrome (like me), a script does wonders in curing the problem. If it feels a bit fake, remind yourself that ultimately, this is about providing a better experience for your participants and it’s their benefit and comfort you’re doing this for.
  3. Leave your notes unstapled. I know. This sounds like such an inane, irrelevant thing, but it really does take more effort and fumbling around to flip stapled pages than it does unstapled ones. Trust me. Things will flow much better if you leave them unstapled.
  4. Keep the trickiness to a minimum. I wanted to do something a little more original than anything I’d seen in webinars I’ve attended. One of my ideas was to do on-screen drawing, where I was engaging with participants, asking them questions and then writing down points to help crystallize concepts I was trying to convey. I wanted it to be like they were at an actual, in-person class. In theory, that sounds awesome. In practice, not so much. Trying to do this really slowed things down. It was too difficult switching between all the mental gears it takes to man the control panel, turn pages, keep the conversation on track and flip between the drawing tools all at the same time. While most webinar platforms offer drawing tools, there’s still a lot that needs to be perfected in the technology and controls before they’ll be at a level where this is more feasible. Sometimes, the best solution is the simplest, tried-and-true method.
  5. Have a co-pilot. Initially, I weighed the option of having one of my colleagues help me. But then I thought that would just make me more nervous and there wasn’t much she could take off my hands anyway. Well, after doing Part 1 of my first webinar, I realized that was a mistake. With everything else I had to do myself, no matter what, it was absolutely impossible for me to also pay attention to those who were having audio difficulties, typing in the text chat area or raising their virtual hands with questions. So in Part 2, I definitely had my administrator help me. She monitored the audio and let me know when someone had a question or issue. It really did help.
  6. Have everyone mute themselves. Here again, I really wanted a more interactive, dynamic conversation. I didn’t want to be talking at people. The problem with that, however, is no matter how large or small the group, no matter how many times you convey your webinar guidelines and ask folks to observe good netiquette, there is always going to be someone whose audio problems and noisy background will disrupt the class. Dealing with those issues slows things down and only serves to frustrate everyone. So here’s the thing to keep in mind if you feel uncomfortable doing most of the talking: people are there to hear you talk at them, so to speak. They paid for your class because they want to learn from you. They aren’t the ones with the knowledge, you are. So you have to be talking to them to a large extent in order to give them what they came to get. Having everyone mute themselves (and then instructing them to unmute themselves one at a time when you get to the Q&A portions of the class) helps you deliver a better experience for everyone. (PS: As the moderator, you don’t want to mute folks yourself as they won’t be able to unmute themselves when Q &A rolls around. Yup, this happened to us.)
  7. Establish the Q & A rules. Schedule question-and-answer spots into the sequence of your presentation. You can save them for the end of the class or intersperse them at specific intervals. Just don’t allow questions willy nilly. This will really slow things down and lead you off-track. Set expectations before the class by letting participants know how and when Q&A will be handled. Ask them to save their questions for those times (suggest they write them down along the way or submit them in advance) and to keep their questions on-topic.
  8. Keep class size small. If you were only doing a teleseminar, I would say it really doesn’t matter how large the attendance is (other than your bridgeline’s limitations). However, conducting training, particularly on a webinar platform, is a bit more involved, more interactive, more intimate. They really do work best and are easier to manage when the class size is limited. Plus, depending on the webinar platform you’re using, you can often keep costs down, if that’s a concern, by limiting the number of participants. I think a group of around 20 to 25 is perfect.
  9. Spread it out. Break classes down into one or two hour sessions. Beyond that, people get tired. Their mind wanders. They have other things to do. Too much information all at once can be overwhelming and hard to digest. Plus, for practical purposes, smaller recordings are easier to edit and manage. You can always combine separate recordings into one video later.
  10. Don’t be afraid to boot bad attitudes. I had the most delightful bunch of participants in my first class. I couldn’t have asked for a better group. However, there was one person in part 1 of my training who rudely made it clear she was impatient with what she perceived to be entry-level when she felt she was more advanced. However, this was not her personal coaching session where everything was going to be geared specifically for her. There were others for whom the knowledge and understanding was new — and appreciated. All the parts were important to the whole because they’re all pieces of one puzzle that would not be complete without that information. So, know going in that a) there are going to be people who end up not being a fit, whatever the reason, and b) you don’t have to suffer the company of anyone who is ill-mannered and brings negative energy to you and the rest of your class. If they can’t be courteous and polite and save their complaints for later, you have no obligation to allow them to put your off your game and make you uncomfortable.

RESOURCE: GoToTraining is the platform I used this time around to conduct my first training. All the Citrix products are very good and reliable. There are a few things I would really love to see them continue to improve, and they do seem to really listen and heed user feedback. Initially, they were offering their platform at $350/mo. I told them there was no way the small business owner would ever pay that, particularly when their class sizes were smaller and they might only use the platform a few times a year. The very next day, they introduced a new, lower-priced payment level geared especially for more sporadic use and smaller class sizes. Their customer support is also phenomenal, which, on a side note, is a trend I have been noticing lately. I’m seeing more and more companies put a new, all-out focus on providing outstanding customer support. It would seem that they are FINALLY hearing what the market has been saying for years now: “Your crappy and/or offshored customer service is creating ill-will and costing you our business!” Only good can come of that. But you, Mr. and Ms. Marketplace, need to stop expecting everything for free if you want to continue to benefit from this new wonderful service trend. It goes both ways. For myself, I am oh-so-happy to pay well for that kind of experience. ;)

Recording Conference Calls and Webinars with Camtasia

Ran into this issue and thought I would share what I learned in case it’s helpful to anyone else…

In offering my first training classes, I’ve been getting an education by fire of all the ins and outs of doing webinar recording.

I used GoToTraining for my first class.

It’s a nice interface, the customer support is awesome and they really do seem to listen and heed user feedback, but there are still enough drawbacks that my hunt continues for a more ideal platform in the future.

One thing that turned into quite the fiasco was dealing with the recording.

All the Citrix products come with the ability to do the onscreen capture and audio recording of your online meetings for you and they provide a built-in bridgeline as well.

On the surface, this sounded mighty easy and convenient, so I naturally opted to do that. And it would have been, if I had no need to do anything to the recording.

The problem was that in wanting to clean up the audio/video afterwards and also convert it to a more universal format, I discovered it wasn’t really compatible with Camtasia.

This really turned into a nightmare and caused a lot a disruption in the high quality service delivery I naturally wanted those who attended to get from me.

Ah, well, live and learn.

We ended up having to separate the audio from the recording, editing it separately in Audacity, and then re-recording the whole 2-hour presentation and synching up the edited audio back up with it.

Yeah, not fun.

And maybe there’s another, better, way to do it, but I’m still new to using Camtasia and everything the support people told me to try was not working.

Everyone pretty much threw up their hands and could only surmise that the recording I was provided with must have been corrupted in some way (which, I learned later is indeed a known problem).

At any rate, this all led to me determining that while I might use a platform like GoToTraining or WebEx to conduct future webinars, I want to do the recording myself using Camtasia and our own bridgeline.

What was stumping me, though, was how would Camtasia record the conference call?

The answer, apparently, is purchasing a devise called a “recording adapter” or “conference recording adapter.”

I was told I could purchase one of these from Radio Shack for $19.99. On their website, it’s called a “mini recorder control.”

However, in consulting with folks more knowledgeable than I about all the ins and outs of this subject, I was told that it’s not very high quality and also doesn’t work with cordless/wireless phones (which is what I have).

These folks suggested the better option is to go with one of the recording adapters offered by DynaMetric.com. They have two products for this, depending on what kind of phone you have.

a). If you have a corded phone, you want the TMP636 Webinar Recorder which sells for $85.95.

b). If you have a cordless/wireless phone, you want the TLP124HS Cordless Phone Adapter which sells for $84.95. The problem this one solves is the issue of your phone handset not having enough ports (particularly if you use a headset so you can speak hands-free). With this model, one end of the adapter cable plugs into your computer mic port, the other end plugs into your phone handset, and then your hands-free headset plug into a port built into the adapter device itself. Perfect!

These cost more than $20, but they are much better products for higher quality results and more sturdy, long-lasting life.

When you go to record your webinar using Camtasia, after hooking up the adapter, you would then select that option from your “Audio” mic list.

What Webconferencing Service Do You Recommend?

I will be conducting some learning modules this month and need your webconferencing recommendations.

What services do you or your clients currently like/use?

Or, have you been on a webinar recently where you liked the webconferencing interface? If so, what were they using?

Here’s the snag I’ve been running into…

In the past, we’ve used GoToWebinar which allows plenty of room for attendees (GoToMeeting only allows up to 25 attendees, if I remember correctly).

GoToWebinar was fine when all we were doing was conducting webinars, but I now need something for conducting classes and it just doesn’t cut it.

Truth be told, I never really liked the interface.

For one thing, attendees couldn’t see who other attendees were. Plus, you can’t unmute everyone all at once. You have to unmute each attendee individually and then, you are only allowed to have 25 attendees unmuted at one time.

This is a problem because what I’m using it for is an interactive class. I need for people to simply be able to talk without having to go through a bunch of rigamarole.

The workaround is to use our own bridgeline, but then (since I want all the classes recorded), GoToWebinar can’t record the audio portion.

I could try to integrate the audio and video together later using Camtasia, but that’s just an irritating extra step/work that I’d prefer not to have. So that just isn’t going to work.

So here’s what I need in a webconferencing service:

  1. It must provide screensharing, not simply file sharing (CoolConferenceLive only provides file sharing, not screensharing, if I’m correct).
  2. A conference line that allows everyone to be unmuted all at once and not have restrictions.
  3. Ability to record everything (audio & video).
  4. Ability for attendees to see who other attendees are.
  5. Support at least 50-100 attendees.

I could really use your recommendations. Thank you!

Dear Danielle: What Advice Do You Have for an Itinerant Business Owner?

Dear Danielle:

I am currently planning and readying my new administrative support business for its grand opening in about a month and a half, but my husband is in the military and we will be moving all over (this is why I am starting this business). So my question is two-fold: Do you have any tips for an itinerant business owner like me? And will there be different laws to follow depending on where you are located? –CD

As you recognize, that’s the beauty of a business such as ours. It doesn’t require any kind of physical brick and mortar presence, there are no geographic constraints and we can run our business and work anywhere we have access to the internet.

You don’t elaborate much so I’m not sure what kind of tips you’re thinking of, but here are a few thoughts off the top of my head:

  1. Set up a shared online collaborative office. These are not merely project management programs. They’re full-package organizational tools that you can set up by client so that each “collaborative office suite” has its own shared calendar, contacts/address book, project/task management section, full real-time document filing and sharing, forums and wikis you can set up, and all kinds of other things–all in one. There are so many out there these days; it really boils down to personal preference. Plus, it’s hard to make a recommendation without more specific details.
  2. Get Dropbox. This is a free shared file drive where you can store any and all files and documents that you a) want access to no matter what device you’re one, and b) to share with clients. Dropbox is an amazingly versatile tool that allows you do to so many things. It makes working with clients, keeping them organized and sharing documents between you a breeze.
  3. Perhaps set up your email accounts in an online tool like Gmail. That way, you can have online access to all your communications wherever you have an internet connection.
  4. Get an aircard (also called “mobile broadband”) or mobile hotspot. This is a USB you plug into your laptop or a wifi device that gives you your own secure internet access when you aren’t home. Wherever you can get a cell phone signal, your aircard/mobile hotspot will work there as well. Which means you could be anywhere: in your car, at a park, wherever, and still have internet access. I use Verizon and have been very pleased.
  5. Get a remote access service like TeamViewer. This will allow you to log into your home computer when you need to whenever you are away.

As far as different laws to follow depending on where you live, yes, that might be the case.

Different cities, counties and states have their own licensing and tax obligations. Some cities (like mine) requires a separate business license in addition to the state business license you may have to take out (also required in my state). Others don’t require any separate or special registration at all.

Some areas might have special zoning or laws pertaining to home businesses.

Some cities or counties might require you to file their own business tax reports in addition to what you might be required to file federally or with the state.

It will be your job as a responsible business owner to research those each time you move.

I want to also stress that it’s important to go straight to the source. Contact the pertinent state and local agencies and ask them those questions.

Their directions and information will be the only ones that matter.

You don’t want to rely on the guesses or opinions of others as they are not going to be paying your penalties or fines or dealing with problems if you end up not doing something right based on their “helpful” advice.